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Insight from 'Hell's Kitchen'



I recently had the opportunity to attend the Tony Award nominated musical Hell’s Kitchen on Broadway. The musical is semi-based on award-winning artist, Alicia Keys, who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. I gladly accepted an invitation to catch this widely popular show. I went into the show expecting a gritty, coming of age story told through the eyes of a fiery and talented teenager featuring a backdrop of soulful and inspiring dance music. The musical did not disappoint with this.


However, what I did not expect, was a masterfully interwoven theme that depicts the impact of racism and misconceptions placed on Black youth including men, and other people of color. The show also touched upon issues of parental abandonment. The musical depicted the influence of society’s racism on the psyche of young Black men and others that are often misrepresented and misunderstood by society. As May kicks off mental health awareness, this musical’s timely themes do a fine job of highlighting these critical themes from a minority perspective.


The Musical

Hell’s Kitchen is a musical inspired by the upbringing of multi-talented award-winning artist, Alicia Keys. It was written by one of her collaborators on the project, Kristoffer Diaz. The musical captures the harsh realities of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in the 1990s before infamous NYC Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani came in and heavily policed the area. The play does a phenomenal job of capturing the essence of the 90’s vibe through its choreography, costumes, teen dialogue, and other forms of artistry.


What the play also does well is let its audience inside the minds of those who are misunderstood as teens and young adults by a society that at times can be unforgiving. It shows you just enough through various depictions within the story. There is a scene that contains a backdrop of imagery that reveals the consequences of what can happen when minority youth are misunderstood and misrepresented as individuals to fear.


The play also explores the issue of abandonment by a parent when children are most in need and going through hardships. It explores the dynamics of discipline and rebellion. It uses music as the setting for providing much needed relief from the stressors and pressures of growing up as a person of color. Music in the form of piano lessons is the tool used to create calm and quell anger for young Ali, who is the main character.


For Ali, her discovery of the piano, and her subsequent piano lessons essentially function as a mental health haven for her character. Drums symbolize another musical outlet for other characters in the musical also misunderstood by society. The devastating impact heard and felt by one of the character’s admissions of how racist treatment makes him feel as a young Black man leaves an indelible mark on the audience.


The Healing and Hope

Society has not always been quick enough to identify the impacts of racism on individuals or its lasting impacts on generations. Additionally, we have only recently begun to recognize studies and research showing racism as a legitimate health concern that can have impacts on one’s physical and mental health. This current narrative is slowly changing.


More research is being done that recognizes that the impacts of racist attitudes does play a role in our overall health. The results of which can manifest as harmful stressors to our physical bodies and minds. Art has long been known to be used as a healing mechanism. Art also has shown the profound ability to be a catalyst for change. It can be used as a form of protest to injustices such as racism and lack of mental health outlets.


The play’s ability to successfully weave in themes of teen sexuality, racism, and mental health by displaying what it means to live in a society as a person of color constantly misunderstood is the type of educational content that proves theater with social justice themes is marketable in mainstream entertainment.


Hell’s Kitchen is the perfect inspirational story that highlights the importance of art to young people and society. Mental health treatment alternatives using artistic outlets such as writing, poetry, music, dance, journaling, etc. are widely used and proven effective when you ask younger generations. Allowing teens to see musicals such as this not only gives them hope that dreams are real, but it can also give them a sense of healing and the chance to see that they are not alone.


Healing from pain and trauma can come in having shared experiences and seeing those experiences through the eyes of others. Bravo to Hell’s Kitchen for daring to expertly weave social justice issues into their production and proving that art can be healing. “I use my artistic voice to inspire long lasting and meaningful change for the future.”- Mel from mels2021.com.

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